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Constitutional debate has been settled: Hate crime laws serve vital purpose

Jeff Jacoby’s attack on hate crime laws (“Racist opinions aren’t crimes,” Opinion, Jan. 11) is devoid of an accurate understanding of both the purpose and functionality of these laws.

Hate crime laws are not “constitutionally and morally unsound.” While sniping about these laws continues, the Supreme Court ended the constitutional debate when it unanimously upheld hate crime laws against a First Amendment challenge in 1993. Americans are free to believe whatever “ugly opinions” they want. It is only when an individual commits a crime based on bias and intentionally targets another that a hate crime statute is triggered.

Jacoby’s hypothesis that these laws serve little purpose other than “a vehicle for grandstanding” is offensive to victims and insulting to police and prosecutors. Hate crime statutes are necessary because the failure to recognize and effectively address this unique type of crime can cause an isolated incident to explode into widespread community tension.


Judges have always considered many factors, including motive, before imposing a sentence. Legislators have the right to recognize the odious nature of hate crimes by treating them differently in the laws that govern all of us.

The Supreme Court has recognized that hate-motivated crimes “inflict greater individual and societal harm” warranting harsher punishment. It’s time for Jacoby to do the same.

Robert O. Trestan
New England regional director
Anti-Defamation League